As a company owner, building owner or property manager, it is important to understand how to address indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. The initial reaction to an employee or tenant complaint often sets the tone for the investigation. When handled appropriately, the resolution to a complaint can be performed more efficiently and cost effectively, thus fostering a better relationship with you and your tenants.
One important way to alleviate most IAQ complaints is to address all water and mold related issues as soon as possible. Mold issues can be avoided by eliminating sources of water that may come in contact with building materials. Once mold or water intrusion issues arise, it is important to quickly identify the source of water. Once identified, it should be addressed immediately whether it is a water intrusion issue from the exterior of the building or from an interior plumbing source. Most importantly, ensure that impacted building materials are dried within 24 to 48 hours. If mold is already visible, your contractor should understand how to resolve these issues so as not to create a larger issue or intensify tenant concerns.
When a general IAQ complaint is made and there is no known water related issue or sign of visible mold, additional information regarding the specific complaint may be needed. It is important to start all IAQ investigations with some information gathering and in-house inspections. This will help to minimize costs by possibly identifying a potential issue prior to engaging an IAQ consultant. This information will also help an IAQ consultant to formulate an investigation strategy. Ask specific questions about symptoms, the places and times they are experiencing the problem, patterns in when the complaints are made such as time of day, month or season or any health conditions that may make the complainants more susceptible to environmental conditions. Most IAQ investigations performed in commercial building environments (from a tenant complaint) are associated with odors or allergy related symptoms. Other common complaints include dusts from construction activities, water leaks, inadequate ventilation, cleaning chemicals, pesticides, air fresheners, and even general office equipment.
Once the information has been gathered and general inspections have been performed by in-house staff, the next step is deciding whether an outside professional is needed to further investigate the areas of concern and to conduct sampling. When meeting with an IAQ professional it is important to provide them with all the information you have available so they will not duplicate efforts and are able prepare a suitable scope of work. Sometimes it is beneficial for the IAQ professional to conduct a walk-through of the areas of concern in order to help develop an investigation and sampling strategy. Once the investigation and sampling strategy has been developed and executed, the results can help to identify the source of the concern and the actions required to resolve the issue. However, it is common that even through the investigation and sampling process, no IAQ issues are identified. When this occurs, it will need to be determined if the symptoms are not associated with the workplace or if additional, more detailed investigations are required.
Individuals today are more aware of the importance of good indoor air quality and know in some respect that they should be provided a clean and safe workplace. However, most individuals are not well informed of the individual air quality parameters that should be monitored or evaluated as part of an IAQ investigation. This uncertainty can cause the individual to be more sensitive and sometimes emotional about their situation, so taking each complaint seriously is prudent. If a complaint goes unaddressed, those with the air quality concern can become apprehensive, disgruntled, and possibly a plaintiff. Approaching complaints in a pro-active manner develops better cooperation between those involved and aids in a smoother resolution.
Whether the need for action is from a current water loss or from an occupant air quality concern, the way the issue is approached and handled by the employer, property owner or property manager can dictate the outcome and minimize additional complaints. It is important that all concerns are taken seriously but even more important not to jump into expensive, unnecessary sampling. Developing an IAQ Response Plan is a good way to outline the steps necessary for investigating complaints and can also show a concerned individual that policies regarding indoor air quality are in place.
For more information about this topic, please join us on July 12, 2012, for a FREE Webinar titled, "Managing Indoor Air Quality Complaints in Commercial Buildings" Register Today!